Deadman’s Island, located at the mouth of The Swale, opposite the town of Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey, off the north Kent coast, plays a major role in my new JAFF story, entitled Losing Lizzy: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary.
As mentioned above, Deadman’s Island is a flat, raised area of marshland approximately 1200 metres long and 200 metres wide. It is found in the estuary of the River Medway in Kent in England near where the Swale flows into the Medway. It lies among the tidal sand banks on the southern side of the estuary and is separated from the mainland of Chetney Marshes by a narrow channel known as Shepherd’s Creek. The town of Queenborough lies a kilometer to the east of the West Swalle channel. The island is crossed by several narrow tidal channels, which means at high tide, the island is separated into several smaller islands.
This island is a fascinating place, but, unfortunately, it is not one the general public can visit. The uninhabited mudbank is owned by Natural England, who lease it to two people.The wetland site is protected land, and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and recognised to be of international importance under the Ramsar convention. The Ramsar Convention is a Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Deadman’s Island is also an important bird breeding and nesting site.
Back in January 2017, the BBC’s Inside Out South East programme took a boat across to investigate whether any of the rumours were true. The Inside Out team was only allowed to visit after receiving permission from the leaseholder and because it was not the bird breeding season.
Bodies were buried on Deadman’s Island as early as the 1600s, but it became a “burial ground” of sorts for those who died upon ships carrying diseases. The ships were quarantined on nearby Burntwick Island, and the dead were buried on Deadman’s Island. Both islands set at the mouth of the Thames. The quarantine and burials were meant to prevent another “plague” to reach London. Later, Deadman’s Island was used as a port for Prison Hulks. Originally, prison hulks were used to detain prisoners who were used for work details during the day and imprisoned upon the hulks at night.
In 2016, the remains of more than 200 humans were found on the island. The remains are believed to be those of men and boys who died of contagious diseases or on board floating prisons, known as prison hulks, which were moored off the Isle of Sheppey more than 200 years ago.
They were buried in unmarked coffins in six feet of mud.
They were originally buried in wooden coffins under six feet of mud. Unfortunately, rising sea levels and coastal erosion over the years have begun to slowly wash away their final resting place, leaving wooden coffins and skeletal remains sticking out of the mud. They are only visible when the tide is out. The remains are being washed out into the sea, and would be difficult to rebury. The island is marked with wooden posts across it, though these are probably to help identify the island and prevent erosion and not grave markers as sometimes claimed.
Locals in the Sheppey town of Queenborough grew up with the legend of a red-eyed hound who ate the heads of its victims on the eerie land mass. But historians have shown it was used a cemetery for inmates onboard prison hulks – converted warships used as floating jails for criminals waiting to be transported to the colonies in the 1820s and 30s.
Experts say more than 1,000 men and boys were incarcerated in floating fortresses ‘Retribution’ and ‘Bellerophon’ anchored at Sheerness, made of decommissioned Ships of the Line stripped of their masts and sails. Naval historian Professor Eric Grove said: ‘Obviously when people died on board these prison hulks they had to be buried somewhere and island close-by was the obvious place.’ There has been debate about how bad the conditions were on board, but it is believed a cholera outbreak on Retribution on the 1830s may help explain the dozens of bodies now littering the island.
Coincidentally, during the Napoleonic wars, many French prisoners of war were held around the coast at Chatham, with those who died buried on the nearby marshes.
Losing Lizzy: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary
She thought him dead. Now only he can save their daughter.
When Lady Catherine de Bourgh told Elizabeth Bennet: “And this is your real opinion! This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall now know how to act. Do not imagine, Miss Bennet, that your ambition will ever be gratified. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point,” no one knew how vindictive and manipulative her ladyship might prove, but Darcy and Elizabeth were about to discover the bitter truth for themselves.
This is a story of true love conquering even the most dire circumstances. Come along with our dear couple as they set a path not only to thwart those who stand between them and happiness, but to forge a family, one not designed by society’s strict precepts, but rather one full of hope, honor, loyalty and love.